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Check out BenefitsCheckUp

By Jennie L. Phipps · Bankrate.com
Sunday, June 26, 2011
Posted: 7 am ET

My sister-in-law is mildly mentally handicapped. Despite that, she's managed to live on her own her entire adult life, working mostly as a hotel maid.

As she's gotten older, paying the bills has gotten harder. In the process of trying to help, I found the National Council on Aging's BenefitsCheckUp.org. It's a wonderful site that identifies programs that will help people living in retirement on a low income. You type in detailed personal and financial information, and then BenefitsCheckup examines more than 2,000 public and private programs in all 50 states and the District of Columbia to identify the programs for which you likely qualify. Marlene Schneider, vice president of decision support services for NCOA, says the programs in the database are the most widely available and likely to be of the most help to the most people. Each listing on BenefitsCheckUp includes eligibility requirements and links to online applications.

Here are the programs most seniors in need of help are likely to qualify for:

  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. SNAP is the new name for the federal Food Stamp Program. The program is administered differently in every state. First, you locate your state, then BenefitsCheckUp will walk you through that state's application. There are special rules for people 60 and older. A two-member household can qualify for as much as $367 in food coupons per month.
  • Help paying for Medicare Part D, prescription drug costs. If your income is less than $16,245 if you're single and $21,855 if you're married, you may be eligible for as much as $4,000 in help paying for prescription medications. Fill out this application to determine your eligibility.
  • Help paying your phone bill. LifelineSupport.org provides about $13 monthly toward the cost of a landline or cellphone.
  • Housing assistance. If you spend more than 30 percent of your income on housing, you could be eligible for help paying your rent from the U.S. Department of Health and Urban Development.
  • Property tax reductions. In some states, low-income homeowners are eligible for assistance paying property taxes.
  • Veterans benefits. Anyone who served in the military is eligible for veterans benefits and their spouses could be eligible as well. If you are a Vietnam-era veteran and unfamiliar with the program as it is now, it is well worth exploring the details. Some of the benefits don't have income limits.

We all hope we don't have to make asking for help part of our retirement planning, but it's good to know it's there if you need it.

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